Country Counter: 22
Cities Visited: Sydney, Melbourne
Timeframe: June 2007
Over the past few months, I’ve tried to pick up my writing. I realise the longer I wait, the more I tend to forget details about trips taken a decade ago. At that time, we could not afford a digital camera and carried our bulky old Canon everywhere, with a few film rolls. Each roll could capture around 36 photos, so we did not have the liberty to click wildly and then sort out the good ones. Each photo had to be ‘planned’, and we had developed this habit of checking the ‘remaining counter’ after every snap. With the advancement of camera technology coupled with its exponential reduction of cost, it is hard to imagine how life was just ten years ago.
The last time I went home, I tried to dig up as many of these (expensive) printed photos. I couldn’t wait much longer as most of them were either shedding colour or form in some way, and the rest were lost somewhere along the way. It made me really sad (and feel careless), and this tremendous loss is why I won’t be able to write a full post on Nepal (2005) and Thailand (2007, on our way to Australia). I still managed to salvage a few from our Australia and USA trip in time, but they weren’t enough to complete the picture. Among a lot of discussion and reminiscing, I was able to piece the memory blocks and recall most of our journey through this amazing country.
Our first stop was Sydney, where we spent around 3 days. We were on foot mostly, exploring public squares like The Rocks and The Domain, visiting iconic landmarks like the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, and exploring wildlife in the zoo. Visit the Sydney Tower for excellent views of the city and Bondi Beach for the chilled-out life (but you knew that already).
View from the Sydney Tower
We took the one-day tour to the Blue Mountains, carefully arranged to include small groups for a better experience. We travelled in a small van with our guide, who was quite the fellow indeed. This is something I want to mention here. I’ve been around different groups of people around the world, and everyone has their unique sense of humour. I found that apart from being generally relaxed, which Australians are known for, everyone almost invariably has a great sense of humour. And the good type, mind you, much like the Irish.
With our guide
The Blue Mountains
During the entire trip, the guide kept us entertained with quips like ‘did you know, that the Blue Mountains are neither blue nor mountains?’ and ‘I advise you not to get too close to the edge, but if you do fall over, make sure to enjoy the view.’ The Blue Mountains were fascinating to say the least, and no one died. We checked out the famed ‘Three Sisters’ rock formation, who were turned into stone in order to protect them, according to an old legend. There are hiking trails which bring you close to the rocks but were not part of this tour. Another highlight was the Scenic World railway tour, which is a MUST do, just for the thrill. It is the steepest incline railway in the world, and the ‘open’ cars have only seat-belts. My mother and sister were in the first cabin, and as the coach starts descending, you can almost feel that you’ll fall off your seat and plunge into the valley (that does not happen, of course). Absolutely thrilling!
Scenic World railway with the Three Sisters in the background
The Three Sisters
We headed out to Melbourne next, via Canberra. My dad has this enviable gift of finding contacts wherever we fly to. As soon as we reached, a man came to pick us up and invited us to his home. We later found out that he is one of the most successful businessmen in the city, having arrived in Melbourne with his father years ago and gradually rising to where he is right now. His success, however, had not changed his demeanour one bit, and he remained as humble as one could possibly be. He provided us with a great accommodation and an unforgettable gastronomic tour around the city, and our families became good friends. He passed away a few years ago, much to our shock and surprise (he was younger than my father), and we will never forget his hospitality and our friendship.
One of the first things that struck me was how clean the city was – not a speck anywhere. It was an unbelievable sight to our sore eyes – coming from India and this being only our second international destination. Don’t get me wrong, things have improved back home now, but at that time we were just glad to see a nation collectively deciding not to litter and preserve their cities, something which many nations are still struggling to achieve.
Tons of things to do and see. From the hustle bustle of Queen Victoria market, to St. Kilda’s beach, the Shrine of Remembrance – a war memorial for WWI, a walk along the Yarra river at the Yarra Bend Park and the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the 1853 birthplace of Test cricket (I’m from India, remember). A drive along the Great Ocean Road is recommended for all visitors, and so is the Melbourne Museum for its fascinating displays (I couldn’t find our pictures of the exhibits, unfortunately).
The Shrine of Remembrance
Ceremonial Avenue, looking towards the city of Melbourne from the shrine
There were two main highlights of our stay in Melbourne. The first was the century-old Puffing Billy steam train ride through the Dandenong Ranges. The windows were large enough to allow people to sit through them with their legs dangling outside and enjoy the view. The tour also includes a stop at the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary, where you can get up close and personal with over 200 species of animals, including everyone’s favourite – Koala Bears.
The second was a day trip to Phillip Island to watch penguins. Honestly, when was the last time you witnessed penguins in their natural habitat? The tour begins with a stop at Warrook’s Cattle Farm (now called Warrook Station Farm, according to their website). This family owned farm has a wide variety of animals on the estate and you can go ahead and feed them if you like – other options include milking cows and watching a sheep-shearing operation. I distinctively remember I took a magnificent picture (according to my camera capabilities) of a lonely tree standing in a vast open stretch, and a broken cart beside it. The entire scene setup was something straight out of an epic romance novel. Unfortunately, after searching for hours, I could not find it. It is ironic how, when I captured the scene a decade ago, I wanted to show it to the world, and now, when I have started documenting, that is the picture I couldn’t recover.
Warrook’s Cattle Farm
After having lunch at the farm, we head on to the Koala Conservation Center, where you can see Koalas (again) in their natural habitat. Keep in mind though – they might look cute and cuddly, but do not ‘over-disturb’ them, or they will attack. Next, we headed out, in time, to Phillip Island. It is imperative for tour groups to be on time, as a lot of operators run parallel, and the entry to the island is closed after 6 pm. Apparently, some of the tours got delayed during the week because people just couldn’t get enough of the Koalas – oh, the obsession!
At the island, you pass through an information center and enter into a special viewing platform, where crowds gather from all the tours. As the light dims, penguins can be seen walking along the beach to their nests. Hordes and hordes of small penguins, all marching happily, much to the joy of the humans. It is one sight which you cannot find in the middle latitudes. Thanks to Australia, we don’t need to cross the Arctic circle to view these gentle creatures in their natural habitat.
We stayed in Melbourne for almost two weeks, mostly hanging out with our generous hosts. On our way back, we had to endure one of the most testing experiences we have ever faced in an airport. More on that later.
With our hosts and their friends
A lot has changed since that summer of ’07. A recent web search displayed a lot more places to see and things to do. Let’s hope I get that chance of visiting again, and this time, I’ll make sure not to skip the Ayer’s Rock!